[During the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot (April 23rd – June 10th), JVP members are joining together virtually to count the Omer, a process of recognizing the physical, spiritual and communal growth during this time of year. JVP member Deborah Mayaan led the national conference call in the counting of the Omer just before the solidarity seder in Nogales.]
The omer call before the seder: Deborah Mayaan
Walking along the border wall in Nogales, Arizona, US, I described it to participants on the conference call for counting the omer: the rusted steel fence over four times my height, comprised of closely spaced steel beams with gaps wide enough to see through into Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. On Friday, April 29, looking through, I saw JVP-Tucson members setting up for our first binational bilingual seder. On our side, members of the setup crew were covering the rented tables that had just been delivered with purple plastic tablecloths, a beautiful contrast with the big blue sky and desert dirt at our feet. We would soon sit at these tables in Ambos Nogales, “both Nogales,” as people refer to this town split by the wall.
“Bienvenidos a la frontera,” I said on the omer call. “Welcome to the border; bruchim habayim l’gevool.” Because in some ways we did feel we were standing at the border not only of the US and Mexico, but also of Israel and Palestine. Driving the hour and fifteen minutes down from Tucson, conversation in my vehicle turned to the Elbit Systems surveillance towers that were out of sight, this most sophisticated border technology developed in Israel and then implemented here. Not the kind of innovation I would like to be part of. On the way home, we would drive through a border patrol checkpoint, and even though I and my two passengers are all US citizens, I knew I would still feet a twinge in my stomach, a small taste of the distress felt by people crossing over or living along the border here without papers, or those living in Palestine.
We were setting up not far from the shrine for 16 year old José Antonio Elena Rodriguez. He was shot and killed by Border Patrol from the US side of the wall on October 10, 2012, with parallels to the treatment of Palestinian youth along that border.
While it was not yet dark, on the omer call I gave a teaching for the day that was to start at nightfall, the seventh day in the counting of the omer. Each of the seven weeks of counting focuses on one of the seven traditional aspects of holiness. Within each week, on each day there is a focus on one of these qualities.
The first week was chesed, compassion. The first day was the pure outpouring of compassion. That was followed by when we learn to have boundaries in our compassionate response, and then can be in a place of harmony. Then we explored what it was to endure in taking compassionate action, and then what it was to relax and be grateful, to then be in a place of sustained creativity.
This border seder felt to me a great meeting of this day of creative expression of compassion, that would usher in the final day of the first week, Shekhinah she’b’chesed, the indwelling presence, the creation of community, the manifestation in the world of compassion, of lovingkindness.
I look forward to when you can join us and we may all sit at one big table, no walls between us.
Leading the seder on the Mexican side: Laurie Melrood
As it had been for generations, International Street/Calle Internacional, became one broad boulevard again for a few hours on Friday. 45 people from human rights groups across the region sat at long tables opposite one another celebrating a latter-day border version of the Passover story. The street, reminiscent of today’s Bethlehem and neighborhoods of Jerusalem, is now an extended vacant stretch of dirt strewn with bits of garbage and divided by a 25-foot wall with houses and gardens on either side. Border Patrol officers, surveillance towers in the distance, stood guard at the top of a hill on the US side and occasionally rumbled by in their landrovers and 4x4s. The wall construction of heavy rusted raw steel slats allowed us to view one another during the ceremony. But we had been forbidden in a negotiated agreement with US Customs and Border Protection from actually passing any items through the slats. The Mexican authorities, also approached for a permit, simply didn’t respond.
Blake Gentry and I conducted the seder with considerable community participation in Spanish on the Mexico side following or preceding English readings on the US side. Ritual blessings were in Hebrew. Content emphasized the present day flight from endemic poverty and violence via the narratives of those who experienced it personally.The tragedy of José Antonio’s murder was compiled from media clippings and recollections from human rights workers supporting the family and their US court case against the Border Patrol.
Response from the 32 attendees, mostly Christian or non-affiliated as well as several Jews and at least one converso, at our tables was often intense and emotional.
Parallels with the present situation of the emptying out of villages and regions in Mexico and the northern triangle of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and the flight and liberation of the Jews from slavery in the Exodus story were easily drawn. Most participants had not known of the seder ritual, though all knew of the Last Supper, which we presented as partial context in explaining the seder tradition. All resonated greatly with the Haggadah remonstrations to remember that “we were all once slaves in Egypt” and that we are bound to repeat the story from one generation to the other. Our Haggadah’s message that “No one is truly free if others are not also free?/[Nadie está verdaderamente libre si otros no están tambien libres” brought continuous vigorous affirmation.
Among the attendees were members of José Antonio Elena Rodriguez’s family, arriving both as family representatives and as members of the Border Patrol Victims Network. This network, formed somewhat in the manner of the Israeli-Palestinian Family Circle Forum-Bereaved Families for Peace provides support and advocacy for families affected by Border Patrol impunity, and seeks justice for the families of young people murdered by BP officers over the past dozen or more years. Other humanitarian and human rights assistance groups represented (identified in our Passover/Pesaj Haggadah 5776) included Kino Border Initiative, a Jesuit-based organization offering shelter and advocacy to immigrants; HEPAC (Hogar de Esperanza y Paz) offering assistance and advocacy to children and families in Nogales neighborhoods, and Humane Borders, a US-based group supplying water on remote desert routes for migrants.
A School of the Americas Watch delegation, present in the Sonora/Arizona region this week, sent a group of representatives to the seder seeking networks for an October 7-10, 2016 national event “Converge US-Mexico Border” in “ambos” (both) Nogales. Opportunities abound for JVP locally and nationally to make the deep connections between Israel’s enormous investment in suppression and surveillance technology on their own border with Palestine, and with the Department of Homeland Security on both the US and Mexico sides, including now Southern Mexico fronts. The results in human suffering are incalculable. All those who shared our Passover table Friday evening, ALL, have struggled for years, some for decades, to assure that the world does hear the border voices, the Palestinian voices, that those holding the power to make the agreements to enslave and oppress, would have us forget.
As my friend Ana Luisa, now detained in the suspended world that is immigration detention for three years this week, working for slave wages of $1.00 a day washing the detention center floors so she can make a weekly phone call, has said: “Mi libertad vendrá, nunca volveré a la esclavitud otra vez./ Quiero a mi país, quiero a mis padres, pero no puedo regresar” “My freedom will come, I will never go back to slavery again. I love my country, I love my parents, but I cannot return.”
At a meeting with visiting truly great Western JVP organizer Jimmy Pasch, who attended the seder, several of us explored the possibility of having JVP National organize JVP leadership, perhaps first via region, to form a border delegation to visit for several days at this Arizona/Mexico border. Seeing and hearing firsthand the reality for migrants as well as witnessing personally the myriad ways in which Israel and elements of the US government as well as academia and other governments collaborate in borderland militarization is an irreplaceable experience.
JVP Tucson welcomes you.
Southern Arizona BDS Network: Sarah Roberts
I was very moved by this experience of the Seder on the border – the border wall itself and border militarization (both here in the US/Mexico borderlands and in Israel/Palestine) feel like a plague that so many must learn to live with and to resist, in order to live. The wall in some ways felt overpowering, but knowing that compassion and speaking truth to power can bring down walls, it also felt like something temporary that will eventually come down when enough join us in peaceful, nonviolent struggle.